Monthly Archives: April 2010

Kuwait City Transect

By | Neighborhood, Urban | 2 Comments

A transect shows a sequence of progression through the increasing density of a city from the rural areas to the urban core. Transportation, landscape and ecology, buildings, setbacks and all the details of life should vary across the transect.

“The importance of transect planning is particularly seen as a contrast to modern Euclidean zoning and suburban development. In these patterns, large areas are dedicated to a single purpose, such as housing, offices, shopping, and they can only be accessed via major roads. The transect, by contrast, decreases the necessity for long-distance travel by any means.”

-Wikipedia

The idea is used as a guideline to zoning laws to create urban environments that will ultimately be greater than the sum of its parts. The gradual increase in density is preferable to sudden changes, but that’s not really the point. What matters most is that there is a huge variety of spaces and building types all within the same area.

Kuwait City is obviously too large an area to plan it successfully as one large transect, but it’s interesting to note that there are only three different levels of density in Kuwait:

There is the desert, which is punctured by incredibly large buildings that seem illogical and out of place. Then there is the endless matte of suburban (yet highly dense) housing zone. The third and highest level of density is also weird; it is inconsistently dense, meaning there are huge towers all around, but there are lots of empty plots of land everywhere as well.

It would have been much better had we followed a more consistent and gradual increase of density for Kuwait City, but we have to work with what we have. There is an opportunity to follow a similar idea of varied density within the residential areas themselves. This is something that I mentioned in my Pecha Kucha presentation a few months back. (By the way, the next event is on 5/5, which is this Wednesday. Be there!).

The idea is to create a transect within each residential neighborhood, creating varied spaces in the same walkable area. Here are some images that were used in the presentation:

Most residential neighborhoods now aren’t really neighborhoods. They are simply a large sprawl of detached homes that are only accessible by car and are not properly situated in their urban context. You have no place to walk to and everything looks the same.

The large difference in the range of densities allows for a wide variety of building types. This means that there are small detached homes, large dense homes (which is the only type that exists now) and highly dense towers. The increased density will allow for more people to live in the same area, but will create more open, public space which will be better utilized because there are more people and they now have stuff to do and places to walk to. Now if only we could get a transit network to link the urban core to the rest of the city…

Anonymous Neighbors

By | Neighborhood, Qortuba, Social, Urban | 7 Comments

I admit that the following exercise is almost comically biased, but I think it serves well to illustrate the point i’m always trying to make. People have become anonymous within their own neighborhoods and mosques have become the only place where a strong sense of community persists. What can we do to change that? Here is what I feel Kuwait could and should be like. Let’s follow two fictional people, Dalal and Faisal, through a Kuwaiti residential neighborhood as it is and how I imagine it could be:

Bad urbanism affects not only the way our neighborhoods look, but it also deeply affects our sociological and environmental well being. We devolved as a society because we stopped caring about the design of our neighborhoods and accepted our built environment as just the way things are. This brutal ignorance has to stop. So what can we do?

  • We need to give urban designers and landscape architects a much stronger voice in planning neighborhoods and communities. The people in charge of planning Kuwait City are bored engineers. They might mean well, but they simply don’t have the tools required to understand the needs of life beyond what they already know. We need to replace them with energetic and knowledgeable young urban designers and give them the authority and responsibility to reshape our city.
  • To do that we need to graduate lots of urban designers. This profession is different (but related) to architecture. There is a drought of urban design talent in Kuwait and we need to remedy this as soon as possible.
  • All residential neighborhoods require a nearby third place to give people someplace to walk to. People who gather there are members of the community, not random people from far away that you find in a mall.
  • Walkable communities need to be anchored by a mosque, which would act as the catalyst of pedestrian urban development. A park/mosque/library hybrid should be attempted.
  • Trees, trees, trees. Shade and fresh air.
  • Sidewalks are more important than street width. If the roads aren’t safe, kids won’t play, and if they do it’s dangerous.

You can find more ideas here. Kuwait has so much potential to be a great place to live. Let’s not waste our resources on mega-projects that benefit a few people while neglecting the immediate environment where we spend most of our time. We deserve better and we should do our best to make it better for ourselves and for our children.

Event: Module 7 Review

By | Other | 5 Comments

I finally managed to visit the event yesterday morning. They had a pretty decent sized space to show off the work, which was presented on simple and crude modular wooden frame structures. I was a little disappointed that they didn’t go crazy and try to push the space making potential of the frames and making a pavillion/structure, instead of just the basic arrangement that they ended up with.

The work was surprisingly good, in general. What amazed me was that the younger students (2nd and 3rd year) had a much better grasp of design than the older students. I don’t know why that is, but they just seem to be far more confident in their abilities and tend to experiment with new ideas which was, frankly, sorely lacking in the graduation projects that were on display. For example, one of the 3rd year students was using Rhino scripting to design a tesselated roof structure. Impressive!

I’ll post a lot of images at the end, but i’d like to concentrate on one project in particular as I feel it’s indicative of a lot of the design problems that I felt were common to most of the (older) students. The project is by Abdulaziz alKandary and is apparently about ‘humanizing the interaction within neighborhoods':

The intent of the project, as far as I can tell, was to separate the ‘human’ events of life (living, playing, socializing, etc) from the ‘machine’ events (cars, streets, parking). That’s fair enough, but I don’t think the way the design attempts this is in any way socially responsible and is very dehumanizing. There are several design decisions made that seem to be completely independent of each other; it seems like two different people were designing the project at the same time without feedback from each other. What the student ended up with was a very schizophrenic project that creates far more problems than it solves.

There is simply no clarity of intent. Lots of time and energy was spent into creating the weird looking houses with the random angular shapes. This is fine if you want a special house that ‘looks’ different from everyone else. If so, then why copy and paste that ‘special’ house for all the other lots? The special becomes ordinary and the initial compromise of style over function is obsolete. What if the design of the houses and the form of the interstitial space are part of the same design language?

My point in concentrating on this project is that it is a good example of how architects sometimes get stuck with an idea and aren’t self-critical enough to question that original idea. The student’s goal was to ‘humanize the interaction within neighborhoods’, yet the final product shows no real progress in that regard. There was very little effort made to understand the social implications of the design (other than cursory mention of shared courtyards and landscaping). Why are all the houses the same size? Why not have a varied density of housing modules to attract different size families? Why the absolute rejection of the street? Why not question the existence of the street entirely? The site is fairly small and entirely walkable, so why not have underground parking and leave the entire ground plane walkable? I’m sorry to pick on that one project, but I can’t go through them all, so I had to pick just one and this one stood out to me.

Anyway, here’s more from Module 7:

Event: Module 7

By | Other | 5 Comments

Student work is going to be on display at the Avenues next week and I’ll be there at the opening on Sunday to see their work. I was pleasantly surprised by the audacious creativity of KU architecture students the last time I was there. Hope i’m not disappointed and that they live up to their potential.

“The Kuwait Architectural Students Association is proud to invite you to attend “Module 7″, the 7th Annual KASA Exhibition. The exhibition compiles and displays the last year’s worth of work conducted, designed and constructed by the students of Kuwait University’s Department of Architecture.

The opening ceremony will be held under the patronage of his excellency Sheikh Talal Al-Fahad Al-Ahmad Al-Subah at 7pm, on April 4th 2010 at the Avenues Mall, Phase II

The exhibition will run from April 4th to April 8th.

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